The south of Chile ranges from thick virgin forests and windy roads crossing lakes and rivers to turquoise and majestic glaciers; it is rare to find so many diverse outdoor spots in such close proximity. Craft your own adventure and get back in touch with nature while interacting with the local cuisines and traditions. The list below is a starting point. There are innumerable other spots which we encourage you to explore.
Pucón is firmly positioned on the global map as a mecca for adventure sports, its setting on beautiful Lago Villarrica under the smoldering eye of the volcano of the same name sealing its fate as a world-class destination for adrenaline junkies. The town receives alternating floods of package tourists, Santiago holidaymakers, novice Brazilian snowboarders, adventure-seeking backpackers, new age spiritualists and mellowed-out ex-activists turned eco-pioneers. While its popularity can be off-putting for some, Pucón boasts the best small-town tourism infrastructure south of Costa Rica. That means quality accommodations, efficient tourism agencies, hundreds of activities and excursions, vegetarian restaurants, falafel, microbrews and hundreds of expat residents from the world over.
Valdivia was crowned the capital of Chile’s newest Región XIV (Los Ríos) in 2007, after years of defection talk surrounding its inclusion in the Lakes District despite its geographical, historical and cultural differences. It is the most important university town in southern Chile and, as such, offers a strong emphasis on the arts, student prices at many hostels, cafes, restaurants and bars, southern Chile’s best craft beer culture and a refreshing dose of youthful energy and German effervescence.
PUERTO MONTT / PUERTO VARAS
Puerto Montt: if you choose to visit southern Chile’s ominous volcanoes, its celestial glacial lakes and its mountainous national parks, you will most likely be visiting the capital of the Lakes District and the region’s commercial and transportation hub.
Two menacing, snowcapped volcanoes, Osorno and Calbuco, stand sentinel over picturesque Puerto Varas and its scenic Lago Llanquihue like soldiers of adventure, allowing only those on a high-octane quest to pass. Just 23km from Puerto Montt but worlds apart in charm, scenery and options for the traveler, Puerto Varas has been previously touted as the ‘next Pucón,’ but unlike its kindred spirit to the north, Puerto Varas has been able to better manage its rise as a go-to destination for outdoor adventure sports.
When the early-morning fog shrouds misty-eyed and misunderstood Chiloé, it’s immediately apparent something different this way comes. Isla Grande de Chiloé is South America’s fifth-largest island and is home to a fiercely independent, seafaring people. Immediately apparent are changes in architecture and cuisine: tejuelas, the famous Chilote wood shingles; palafitos (houses mounted on stilts along the water’s edge); the iconic wooden churches (16 of which are Unesco World Heritage sites); and the renowned meat, potato and seafood stew, curanto. A closer look reveals a rich spiritual culture that is based on a distinctive mythology of witchcraft, ghost ships and forest gnomes. All of the above is weaved among landscapes that are wet, windswept and lush, with undulating hills, wild and remote national parks, and dense forests, giving Chiloé a distinct flavor unique in South America.
CARRETERA AUSTRAL (AUSTRAL ROAD)
The Carretera Austral, also known as Chile’s Southern Highway is a 1240km long route that winds along through virgin prehistoric forests, torrential rivers, glaciers, and snow capped peaks! Driving along these roads is the best way to explore both North and South Patagonia. A once in a lifetime experience.
The cow town that kept growing, Coyhaique is the regional hub of rural Aisén, urbane enough to house the latest techie trends, mall fashions and discos. All this is plopped in the middle of an undulating range, with rocky humpback peaks and snowy mountains in the backdrop. For the visitor, it’s the launch pad for far-flung adventures, be it fly-fishing, trekking the ice cap or rambling the Carretera Austral to its southern end at Villa O’Higgins
PUERTO NATALES AND TORRES DEL PAINE
A formerly modest fishing port on Seno Última Esperanza, Puerto Natales has blossomed into a Gore-Tex mecca. The gateway to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, this town feeds off tourism, an all-you-can-eat feast with unwavering demand. Boutique beers and wine tastings have overtaken tea time, and gear shops have replaced the yarn sellers. While there’s growing services that cater to international tastes, there’s appeal in Natales’ corrugated-tin houses strung shoulder to shoulder and cozy granny-style lodgings. Most notably, in spite of a near-constant swarm of visitors, the town still maintains the glacial pace of living endemic to Patagonia.
Soaring almost vertically above the Patagonian steppe, the granite pillars of Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine) dominate the landscape of South America’s finest national park. Part of Unesco’s Biosphere Reserve system since 1978, this 1810-sq-km park is, however, much more than its one greatest hit. Its diversity of landscapes range from teal and azure lakes to emerald forests, roaring rivers and that one big, radiant blue glacier. Guanacos roam the vast open steppe while Andean condors soar alongside looming peaks.